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Two Questions You Must Answer: Who do Men Say You Are? And Who Are You?

Adedoyin, ChristsonAt the beginning of every semester, I usually handout a 3-by-5 index card to each of my students, and ask them to write down their answers to four questions: (i) What is your purpose in life? (ii) What are your reasons for taking this course?  (iii) How does this course contribute to your life’s purpose?  and (iv) What are your expectations of the professor? In almost a decade of teaching and doing the 3-by-5 index card exercise in social work courses in public institutions, most students affirm that their purpose in life is somehow related to serving the vulnerable, and fighting injustice.

In my new employment at a Christian University I repeated the 3-by-5 index card exercise with the expectation that Christian students would answer the questions about their life’s purpose differently. Surprisingly, most Christian students stated that they are still searching for their specific purpose in life, even though they boldly, and unashamedly profess their faith in Jesus Christ.

I wrongly assumed that students in Christian institutions would have been exposed to professors, courses, and other faith-integration activities that would have helped the students develop an identity based on their professed faith and their pursuit of purpose. I expected that Christian students would have a clear sense of purpose, live purposefully, and manifest their purpose as part of the great commission. Then it occurred to me: as a Christian professor, can I say with confidence that I know my own identity, or who I am in this profession? That is, am I clear about my own God-given identity which authorizes me to pursue my perceived calling as a Christian social work professor/practitioner? If I cannot answer the identity question of who I am, how then can I help my students know who they are?

To answer this question about our identities – that is, who we truly are – there are two inquiries that beg for our careful attention. First, the question our Lord Jesus Christ asked his disciples in Matthew 16:18 is the same question I pose to you: “Who do men say you are?” Like the disciples, you will likely answer this question by telling me the nice things students, clients, and colleagues have said about you.

The majority of us most often define our identities by our “flesh and blood” answers, that is, our academic, and/or, professional qualifications, which unfortunately are irrelevant to our divinely appointed identities. Jesus Christ told his disciples that our true identities are revealed by our Father who is in heaven.

The second question is: “Who does God say you are?” Answering this question, and understanding your God-given identity, helps every Christian social worker to know who they truly are, as well as the specific assignments to which they are called. We find some examples of this in the Scriptures. For instance, the revealing of the identity of Peter as a rock, and his apostolic role in the future of the Church of Jesus Christ. This example clearly indicates that our God-given identity is not the same as our “flesh and blood” identity, and the revelation of who God says we are is what we should build our professional calling on.

As we continue to serve as Christian social work professors and practitioners, it is important to pause and ask ourselves: “Is who men say I am the same as who God says I am?” I pray the Lord will give you an answer of peace.

Christson Adedoyin, MSW, PhD is an Associate Professor of Social Work at Samford University, Birmingham, Alabama. He has been a member of the NACSW since 2007.

11 thoughts on “Two Questions You Must Answer: Who do Men Say You Are? And Who Are You?

  1. Thanks Criston for your great post. It reminds me of another question, "If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?" I hope so. I hope for everyone who is a member of NACSW our purpose will be clear and evident in our everyday lives.

  2. Questions of identity seem to be such a central part of the Christian journey. In reading this, I was reflecting on the way that Christian community shapes identity. Who we are is so often tied to who we surround ourselves with, and what we remember. I'm reminded of the way God cements Israel's identity as a community, and as a people who remember that God has rescued them up out of Egypt. Thank you for this!

  3. I was surprised to see the language used in the title. Although I attend a fairly progressive church, I did not think my church community was alone in choosing language that reflects the change in how women are valued culturally now as compared to the time of Jesus. Using "men" to refer to all people in 2015 seems quite archaic, and I'm afraid could limit the type and number of people to whom NACSW remains relevant. I hope in the future there can be more awareness to how some language can distract from the overall message and vision of NACSW.

    1. Hi, Sarah. I appreciate your comment, and it brings up an interesting (and challenging) issue for NACSW. On the one hand, we want to be especially careful about the language and positions represented in the articles and blogs we publish to be as sensitive as possible to issues like the important one you raise here. On the other hand, we want to let the voices of our members come through as clearly as possible, recognizing that with over 60 Christian denominations represented, there are going to be differences in our members' views as well as how they express themselves. My hope is that Christson (the author of this blog) will have an opportunity to respond to your comment soon so that we can hopefully generate a healthy discussion about the issue you raise. My bias is that this is one of the most valuable contributions NACSW can make – that is, to invite our diverse membership to engage open-mindedly and respectfully about issues of interest and concern to Christians in social work enabling us grow in both our faith and social work. No small challenge! Rick Chamiec-Case, Executive Director of NACSW

    2. Hi Sarah God bless you for raising this issue, and I will be happy to reply, and address your concerns as best as I can. First, there was a little typographical, or inadvertent error in the verse under contention. It should be Matthew 16:13, and not Matthew 16:8. Secondly, you may be pleased to know that when Jesus Christ used the noun “man" he was referring to "mankind", and not gender, as in male and female. How do I know? Search the scriptural use of the noun "man" from Genesis to Malachi, and you will notice that when the noun "man" is used throughout the Old Testament (which by the way was written in Hebrew), the word for "man" is by transliteration "Adam" ( that is, the species of mankind

  4. Thanks Sarah for opening up that space and for the reminder that we need to be sensitive to gender issues. I am a laminated-card-carrying feminist and I think that because the phase from scripture "Who do Men…" is so familiar to me, I didn't even pause about it or give it another thought. Something to consider….

  5. Thank you Christon for raising the important question about identity. I think that finding one's identity in Christ is a life-long journey as we allow God to shape and form us. And, as Joseph mentioned, our community of faith can play a significant role.

    But, also thank you Sarah for catching the issue of the language we use and how it can unintentionally be jarring on the ear of the listener/reader.

    I think there can be a healthy tension between respecting the beautiful cadence of the older translations of scripture & worship and the desire to use language that draws people in and is inclusive. I believe that managing this tension is one of the challenges of a broad-based faith community such as NACSW because the religious language each of us uses is close to our hearts and our identity.

    Again, thank you to Christson, Sarah, Joe and Rene for such a good conversation. May we all be blessed as we journey this week to the great feast of Easter.

  6. or human beings ). See the first use of the noun "man" in Genesis 1:26 “… Let us make man (mankind, or the human specie) in our image, after our likeness (KJV)”.
    Conversely, in Genesis 1:27 immediately following verse 26, we see the first-ever use of the word "male and female" (gender differentiation). Again, the Hebrew words for "male" by transliteration is "Zakar", and “female” is " Nqebah". So we see clearly that the scriptures are more culturally, and linguistically sensitive, and concerned just as contemporary feminist are about respecting the identity, and personhood of the female gender. It is interesting to note also in Genesis 5 verse 2, where we read interestingly that … “Male” and “female” created He them, and blessed them and called their ( emphasis mine) name Adam….” So we see clearly that the noun, and Hebrew word Adam is the name for the specie of mankind, or human beings.

  7. In direct reference to Matthew 16:13 which is the bone of contention, it may interest you to know that unlike the Old Testament, the New Testament was written in Greek. Again the original Greek word transliteration for the noun " man" is “Anthropos” (people, mankind, human beings); while the noun “male” is “ Arsen”, and "female" is “ Thelys” in Greek. With these transliterations the reference to “man” in Matthew 16:13 refers to “mankind, human species, or human beings”. It is therefore, not surprising that if you check other versions of Matthew 16:13, you will copiously see that majority of the versions translated “man” as “people” (human species). Jesus Christ was not asking “Who do males say I am”, as your query purports to ask. I used the King James Version (KJV) which used the word “man”, which is clearly different from “male”, as I have attempted to differentiate from the aforementioned explanations.

  8. To further allay your concern my little research in response to your query shows that the term “male” was used only 9 times in the New Testament, and I am so happy to let you know, that Jesus Christ was so anticipatory of 21st century issues like we are currently having that he only made reference to “male, and female” two major times. First, while citing Genesis 1:27 which I referenced in the first paragraph, and secondly, in reference to Jewish tradition of dedicating a male child who is a first born. You will be pleased to know that Jesus Christ reassured that in Heaven there is neither “male”, nor “female”, and we shall be like the Angles in His teaching about resurrection, and partly about marriage in Luke 20:28-36.

  9. As a matter of fact Apostle Paul also made a conscious effort to inform the Galatian Christians in Chapter 3 and verse 28 that … “there is no male, nor female for ye are all One in Christ”. I hope my attempt to address your concerns are acceptable not only to you, but other future readers of this blog, and also serves as an cultural, and linguistic enlightenment to others when the nouns “ man”, “male”, and “female” are mentioned in Scriptures. Above all, it is my expectation that the very kernel of this blog contribution, which is “knowing who we are” continues to be a prayer, and contemplation point. God bless you all.

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